Magazine article Law & Order

Mobile Computing "Lessons Learned"

Magazine article Law & Order

Mobile Computing "Lessons Learned"

Article excerpt

The police vehicle has progressed tu much more than a mobile office. In many ways, it has become a mobile police station. The pressures of technological advances continues to push boundaries as police agencies load more equipment in their police vehicles, and we may be at a tipping point where capturing data supercedes our core purpose.

The mobile workstation has advanced over the years, and it may be opportune to ask, "Are we overloading the end users with tasks and intoi mdtifm?" Also, "Are those who develop and install this technology overloaded with demands?"

Police agencies face inultifaceted issues when outfitting their vehicles, which include ergonomie considerations and the integration of bundled software systems that include computer-aided dispatch, a records management system, and a mobile reporting system. The tasks police offices perform in their vehicles and correspondingly, the information available to them, have increased exponentially over the course of MVVS development.

The pace of change has also impacted the vehicle outfitting because it must change as rapidly as advancements in mobile software. One only has to look at the changes in a simple person or vehicle query over the past few years. It wasn't long ago that these were done over the police radio, and the officer wrote down the information on a scratchpad inside the vehicle or the notebook resting on his leg.

Now, most queries are typed into the MWS query mask, or an ID card is swiped through a two-dimensional card reader mounted near the MWS. Even more advanced are the software applications that allow for voice recognition query input and response. Some agencies are" having good success with these advancements while others are not.

Police agencies face similar obstacles as other organizations with the implementation of new technology: a propensity to resist change. There are three key elements to overcoming resistance to police mobile computing hardware and software implementation.

First, police agencies must ensure that IT staff members do not dictate what works on the front line, but they obtain feedback front-line officers. This notion may seem simple enough, but it is often overlooked when a mobile computing project gets under way. Another important consideration is that what works on a desk or a test bench does not always work in a moving vehicle.

A laptop on a desk in a warm office with good lighting may allow for a small font size and the use of a mouse. In a police vehicle, low lighting and constant vibrations are not conducive for working. How do you know whether or not to provide a keyboard snake light in the vehicle or just order the MWS with a backlit keyboard? If you want a backlit keyboard, that will limit your choice of hardware.

If you choose a snake light, you must consider officer safety and the visibility of the officer to someone outside during nighttime. Software font size is something that seems simple enough but rarely gets addressed properly. Officers responding to a priority call need to be able to glance at the MWS CAD Dispatch ticket and see critical tombstone information quickly. Field-testing in your environment is the only way to get it right.

When project planning, the selection of the team is crucial; this means careful selection of key front-line staff. These are usually key people in the organization who are informal leaders and have the "street cred" that garners respect from their peers. Remember, these are people who sell the new mobile solution to their peers, not you. Change that appears to be coming from within the front line is often accepted much quicker then change forced downward.

When hardware / software solutions are being considered, it is imperative that site visits are included in any evaluation. Don't take the vendors' word that their products are working flawlessly in another agency-go see it for yourself! A proper site visit must include ride-alongs with front officers who, while in the comfort of their environment, can give candid unrehearsed feedback. …

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